Australian Banknote Terminology


The process of intaglio printing was the most popular form used by banknote printing companies. It is an extremely time intensive process and requires the combined handiwork of highly skilled artists, steel engravers, and plate printers. Engraved printing plates are covered with ink and then the surface of each plate is wiped clean, which allows the ink to remain in the “valleys” of the design and letter grooves of the plates. Each sheet is then forced, under extremely heavy pressure, into the finely recessed lines of the printing plate to pick up the ink. The printing impression is three-dimensional, creating “mountains of ink” on the banknotes. The height of these “mountains” depends upon the depth of the grooves that the engravers made on the plates, the quantity and type of ink used, and the pressure applied to force the paper into the plates. The surface of the note feels slightly raised, while the reverse side feels slightly indented. This process is called intaglio printing.

Definition of Original Raised Ink
An original banknote printed using the Intaglio process noted above will have definition of detail discernable by touch. There will be height to the ink. Different parts of the banknote will feel more raised up than others due to the fact that the engravers would engrave the plates at differing depths for different features of the banknote. As time goes by and the banknote gets circulated more and more, the height of the ink is slowly worn down until the note finally ends up looking “flat” and loses it’s bright colours. If a banknote is washed or pressed, the “mountains” become flattened and loss of definition is noticeable. A true original high grade banknote will retain some or all of this original definition.

Orientation Bands

Orientation Bands
In an effort to assist in the sorting of large stacks of notes, orientation bands were printed at the top and bottom. The original orientation bands that were used were approximately seven (diagonal) lines wide. When new printing plates were made (after a number of the existing printing plates were damaged), a variety occured with about four lines in the orientation bands, now referred to as wide orientation bands. The former narrow variety is found in about 13,000,000 notes (in prefixes HC 95 to KC 95 only) out of a total of 95,000,000 $5 notes printed in 1995.

Pick Numbers (abbreviated P#)
The Standard Catalog of World Paper Money is a very well-known catalogue of banknotes that is published by Krause Publications in three volumes. These catalogues are commonly known in the numismatic trade as the Pick catalogues, as the numbering system was originally compiled by Albert Pick.

The numbering system uses capital letters (e.g. ‘P’, ‘PS’, ‘PM’) and an integer to identify a note. If a note has signature or date variants, then a lower case letter follows. Therefore P#37b refers to r72.

Plate Identification Letters Plate Identification Letters

Plate Identification Letters (PIL)
According to Greg McDonald.’s publication The Pocket Guide to Australian Coins and Banknotes [Sixteenth edition, November 2008, ISBN 978-0-9751244-9-9] Plate Identification Letters are very small letters found on each banknote of nearly all paper decimal notes issued. Although initially thought to be a security device, it seems that some markings were included to assist with quality control. The plate letters were on the intaglio printing plates. It is interesting to note that the prefix letters of a banknote run alphabetically and consecutively across the sheet (left to right).

Plate Identification Letters were to be phased out by 1990 and prior to the introduction of polymer notes. Despite this, an interesting feature occurred during the latter part of the printing of the 1993 Fraser Cole paper Ten Dollar note. Throughout bundles of the last print run there was a plate letter on every third note.

How to Locate The Plate Identification Letter on an r313 ten dollar banknote : Hold a rule vertically from the the “F” of the Fraser signature and follow it up approximately 30mm. If there is a plate letter it will be sighted on the outside of the left corner of a square in the intaglio design.

As far as can be determind all letters of the alphabet were used, except “I” and “W”. When plate letters were used a second time, a vertical line was printed before the letter.

Security Threads
In 1988, after significant research and development by the CSIRO and the Reserve Bank of Australia, Australia produced the first polymer banknote made from biaxially-oriented polypropylene (plastic ), and in 1996 became the first country to have a full set of circulating polymer banknotes of all denominations.

Polymer banknotes were developed to improve durability and prevent counterfeiting through incorporated security features, such as optically variable devices and metallic security threads that are extremely difficult to reproduce. A thread is embedded in the paper. It cannot be seen by simply looking at the note, however if one holds the note up to the light, it becomes visible as a dark line across the note.

A metallic security thread down the centre of each note was added in 1974 to make forgery more difficult. The initial location the exact centre of the note where most notes were folded. It was found that the tendency to fold notes along the centre caused an excessive amount of wear and tear. As this was the exact position where the metallic thread was originally placed in 1974, it was decided to reposition the Security Thread to the side of the note.

Plate Identification Letters

The original definition of Selvedge refers to the border consisting of an ornamental fringe at either end of an oriental carpet. As banknotes are printed in large sheets, selvedge on bank notes refers to the printing marks on the edge or margin of those sheets. After the sheets have been cut up into blocks of 2 and 4, the printing marks are left on the notes. Selvedge can add value to uncut notes.

Gothic font

Serial number fonts – Gothic
The gothic font (shown above) is the narrower type of font – in both the letters and numerals. It is narrower, and the overall width of the serial number is not as wide as the OCRB.

OCRB font

Serial number fonts – OCRB
OCRB is Optical Character Recognition (also known as Optical Code Readable B), with the B being the second font – an advancement on the A font. It was introduced on banknotes because it could be read by machines and computer software, allowing for the sorting/colation of notes to be automated.

Serial numbers – Ladder

Serial numbers – Ladder
A ladder numbered serial note describes a serial number with digits in numerical sequence, either ascending or descending

Serial numbers – Radar

Serial numbers – Radar
In radar serial notes the numbers read the same forwards or backwards.

Serial numbers – Repeater

Serial numbers – Repeater
In repeater serial notes the last 3 numbers read the same as the first three numbers.

Serial numbers – SemiSolids

Serial numbers – SemiSolids
Semisolid serial numbered notes have two sets of 3 identical numerals.

Serial numbers – Solids

Serial numbers – Solids
Solid serial numbered notes have 6 identical numerals.


The background of a banknote is printed flat using an offset printing process producing an effect like painting with watercolours. This stage in the note printing process is called simultan, where the coloured background design is transferred to the sheet of notes, normally both sides at the same time. Printing plates for the background colours and patterns are produced photographically. On very rare occasions this process does not complete and a note is produced with no simultan – as shown above. Also see “Errors” for other examples.